Former major leaguer Adam Jones hit a pinch-hit solo home run in the top of the ninth inning on Thursday, November 25 as the Orix Buffaloes beat Yakult 6-5 to cut the Swallows’ lead to three games to two in the best-of-seven Japan Series.
In a wild game at Tokyo Dome, it was Jones who had the last say and forced a Game 6 on Saturday and possibly a Game 7 on Sunday back at the home stadium of the Buffaloes.
“Jones really came through for us when it mattered most,” Orix manager Satoshi Nakajima said. “I didn’t tell my players much after the last game. They knew what they had to do tonight.”
The Buffaloes are now in the enviable position of having standout pitchers Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Hiroya Miyagi ready for the next two games. Yamamoto led NPB with 18 wins in the regular season.
But nothing is given. It’s been a tight series with four of the five games decided by one run.
With the game tied 2-2, Orix took a 4-2 lead with two runs in the top of the seventh.
With one out and a runner on second, Ryo Ohta drove in the go-ahead run on a triple to the gap in right-center field to make it 3-2 for Orix.
“That was a huge hit for us,” Nakajima said. “That gave us the hope that we could win this one.”
Steven Moya then added an insurance run with a fly ball to right just out of the reach of Domingo Santana that scored Ohta from third.
The Buffaloes extended the lead to 5-2 in the top of the eighth on a double into the gap by catcher Torai Fushimi scoring Kotaro Kurebayashi.
With a 5-2 lead, Orix looked to have the game in hand but no lead is big enough in this series.
The Swallows came right back in the bottom of the eighth. Orix reliever Tyler Higgins walked the first two batters he faced then gave up a three-run homer to Tetsuto Yamada.
With the Swallows aiming to wrap it up at home and celebrate their first Japan Series title in 20 years, Jones put the party on hold with a towering blast off Yakult closer Scott McGough.
Former major leaguer Yoshihisa Hirano came on to retire the side in the ninth and, as was typical of this game, walked the first batter he faced.
He then got pinch hitter Shingo Kawabata on a fly ball that reached the warning track in right field.
Yasutaka Shiomi struck out on a borderline called third strike before Norichika Aoki grounded out to end the game.
A Game with Twists and Turns
The Swallows got on the board first when Santana scored from third on a fielder’s choice in the second inning.
Orix tied the game in the top of the fourth when Masatake Yoshida doubled and scored on a single to center by Yutaro Sugimoto.
Yakult regained the lead in the bottom of the fourth on a solo homer by Munetaka Murakami.
Orix tied the game in the top of the sixth on a Takahiro Okada single to right that plated Yoshida from second.
The Buffaloes’ fifth pitcher in the game, Taisuke Yamaoka, picked up the win after recording two outs in the eighth. Hirano earned the save.
McGough took the loss.
The next two games will be played at Hotto Motto Field in Kobe, a ballpark the Buffaloes occasionally use during the regular season. Their normal home stadium, Kyocera Dome in Osaka, is unavailable due to a scheduling conflict.
Both the Buffaloes and the Swallows finished last in their respective leagues last season. The Buffaloes haven’t won a Japan Series championship since 1996 when they were known as the Orix BlueWave.
Author: Jim Armstrong
The author is a longtime journalist who has covered sports in Japan for more than 25 years. You can find his articles here, on JAPAN Forward.